Let’s CHANGE ‘Management Speak’!

Who invents ‘Management Speak’?

You know, the sort of thing – phrases that get trotted out and, after a while, can become irritating clichés!

How about “Touching base” or “User-centred” or “Interpersonal”?

Some examples really grate, perhaps because they seem to divide the speaker from the audience by using the language in an entirely different way.

Other expressions seem to use English in a normal way, with the intention of conjuring up an image without which it would take a lot of effort to explain – a bit like “one picture being worth a thousand words” – even if the picture is imaginary.

But even these can get irritating if over-used!

Frankly, I don’t fancy your chances of getting these ducks in a row . . . .

Perhaps the only answer is to keep inventing new descriptions?

People used to talk of others “Moving the goal posts” to explain a changing work environment. This was inadequate to describe the rate of change imposed by our regulator, for whom I would talk of “Having goal posts on castors”. Then it got worse, and I referred to them “Having goal posts on motorised castors”.

I found that this got the listeners’ attention much better than if I had explained the mounting and changing bureaucracy in a more literal manner.

When explaining the degree of difficulty in getting things done, people often speak of “Trying to herd cats”.

A colleague used to talk of “Trying to catch fog in a bucket”.

I’ve often spoken of “Trying to run up a down escalator covered in treacle” and, more recently “Trying to juggle with jelly”. (I quite like this last one, because it’s impossible, gets messy, plus it’s alliterative!)

So why don’t we invent some new expressions (to replace the ones we don’t like, or the ones we have become tired of), and see how quickly they spread?

If you post your ideas here, we can share them and even begin using them.

We might just brighten up the world of work, communicate better, and have some fun?

And having fun can unlock creativity and make us more productive. I could call this a “Win-win situation”, but I’d better not . . . . . . . . . I wonder what we could call it in stead. Any ideas?


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17 Responses to “Let’s CHANGE ‘Management Speak’!”

  1. emergents Says:

    Though not related to management skill sets per se, the other day I was “graphically assaulted”, meaning the graphics on a particular marketing site were so bad that I winced. Management needed to act.

    Greg Troxell

  2. simmonssays Says:

    I had to write an article last winter about the seasons first snowfall. I think I started it with “Snow calls to children like a jumbotron calls to a football fan…” I thought it was clever, but didn’t get any feedback…

  3. netsysconhr Says:

    Well said… Must put in a thought..

    Will get back with my inputs…


    Navin Rane


  4. vworkforce Says:

    Thanks for your comments on my post. I appreciate your input. As for your blog, I must say that nothing irritates me more than silly phrases like “getting your ducks in a row”, or “moving the goal posts”. I heard these comments over and over when I worked a corporate life and they are just as bothersome now as they were then. When I would lead a big project I wanted people to just say what they meant, without any silliness or cute expressions. On the other hand, maybe this is because I just heard the same old ones over and over again. Perhaps a new set of phrases would add some excitement to the workplace. If I hear any new ones I will let you know. Thanks again. Great blog!!

    Jason Grass
    Virtual Workforce LLC
    “Let Us Lighten the Load”
    Newmarket, NH 03857
    Phone: (603)292-5716
    Fax: (603) 292-5914
    E-mail: jgrass@vworkforcellc.com
    Website: http://www.vworkforcellc.com

  5. ranmon Says:

    Thanks for commenting on my blog- and I am with you on this “management linguo” that flat out does not work anymore.

    I am submitting my alternative to “Let’s take this offline.” Here’s the thing, there are so many unresolved issues at work that EVERYTHING gets taken “offline” via smaller separate meetings and phone calls. I say we take this ONLINE and e-mail or IM it out like adults 🙂


  6. peoplethatbug Says:

    Instead of saying “drive strong positive results’, I much prefer to say “do my job”. It’s the same thing. What else are we supposed to do, succeed in achieving a negative goal?

  7. jjoswald Says:

    On a lighter note, this would be a fun activity for office olympics (thanks for your note/idea on my blog!). Create some real office linguo that everyone understands! A great team building activity, plus it would be fun to try and get everyone to incorporate your new words into the work environment.

  8. bobb Says:

    Thanks for your comments.. my pet hate phrases are “touch base”, “synergy” and “my bad” (no so much management speak)..

    Great idea to “sheer the sheep” on this, we definitely need some fresh ideas.

  9. trishadeb Says:

    Some of my “favorite” management/corporate speak:

    – Think out of the box (I ask: Which box? I was not aware I was boxed up, ever) It is like saying : “Use your brain, it just might work!”

    – Employee Engagement (refers to that time when employee is willing to stay with the company for a spell, until another better offer comes 🙂

    – Brand Equity (The way consumers respond to your “brand”. What?)

    – Employee or Management Buy-in (when they – employee or management- accepted your idea, after so many sales spiels or convincing)

  10. Ask Alice Says:

    I also hate “Thinking outside the Box”

    How does this even make sense in the first place? What box am I thinking in? What’s so wrong with the box? What if the box is a super-creative genius box? Would you rather I think inside the circle? What about a triangle – where does that lie on the thinking creatively spectrum?

  11. catchthevision Says:

    Hi all, I guess I’ve touched a raw nerve here!

    At the very least we seem to be saying it’s ok to question what we hear and not take it all at face value.

    Simple questions are a great way to find out exactly what it is that people are trying to communicate. And in my experience, when you ask a question, others enjoy the answer as well . . .

    Please keep the ideas coming – it might just be that, in response to all this obscurity, someone might come up with examples of blinding clarity to help us all.

  12. yesbuts Says:


    Thank goodness the usage has passed out of vogue, but a couple of years ago there was a ban on the answer “yes” – absolutely.

    Thanks for the comments left on my blog.

  13. Dives Says:

    The problem with wanting to change the clichés of business jargon is that it simply sets up an ever-accelerating process. I entirely agree with you that even making the effort (whether we succeed or not) to think up new and colourful and exciting ways of expressing things is an excellent discipline. Among many images for great difficulty I like: plaiting soot, striking a match on a bar of soap, teaching cows to dance, jumping on your shadow. Images of uselessness include: a chocolate teapot (or fireguard), a cast-iron lettuce, three-legged trousers, Anne Frank’s drum kit, the Pope’s goolies, a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest. One could go on (and on). I suppose the first person to say “let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it” got a round of approving noises, and everyone who used it afterwards wanted to same approval.

  14. brainteaser Says:

    Yay! Nice post. And I love the comments too. Hilarious, yet true.

    Avoid cliches, that’s all I can say for now. They just wouldn’t work.

    I’ll come back when I can suggest good ideas.

    Have a great day, everyone!

  15. iamdawn Says:

    Hi Graham

    Fantastic to discover that you have been discussuing the misuse of the english language on your blog here. So pleased that you will be able to continue the coversation through our ‘metaphor madness’ blog.


    Hopefully you will find the visualisations of our weekly updates entertaining. When we are visualising some of the metaphor mix-ups they open a whole new language which begs the question as to whether people even realise what the terms being used during meetings actually mean. Seems that more than often, as long as they sound right, they manage to slip under the radar…. or do they….

    Inventing new ones/mixed ones and seeing where they crop up is already proving fun.

  16. catchthevision Says:

    iamdawn raises the issue of things getting messed up.

    Only today, someone expressed concern about something being frustrated because a person had ‘put a spoke in the wheel’. But putting a spoke in the wheel is exactly what is needed. Without a spoke in a wheel, the wheel would collapse.

    I think that this term is really an incorrect equivalent of ‘putting a spanner in the works’, which probably refers to actions taken by Ludites to bring factories to a halt (not to mention indiana Jones?)

    What might be the ‘Management Speak’ equivalent of this, I wonder? I’ve always been very suspicious of two words now in common useage:

    – people speak of new staff being subject to an ‘Induction Programme’. When was the word ‘Induction’ first used? Was it just a typo’ because someone left letters out of ‘InTROduction’? Or do we really think that staff get ‘Inducted’ the same way as a current in an electric motor . . . . . . . . . . . . ?

    – what about something being ‘cohesive’? When was this term first used? Is it just smashing together ‘coherent’ and ‘adhesive’? If so, then the loss of the word ‘coherent’ seems more than a little ironic! Or am I the only one to think this way?

  17. trixie Says:

    This subject is probably ‘dead in the water’ now being 9 months out of date but I still want to say I LOVE all those cliches and take great delight in learning them and using them I dislike that they have a limited lifespan and I always seem to be ‘catching up’ – just like this comment I’m always ‘out of date’!
    I love to ‘think outside the box’ feeling ‘boxed in’ is so uncomfortable. The only ‘downside’ is that it can create ‘trouble at mill’ when others prefer to remain ‘safe’. Still ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. When I first encountered 24/7 though I thought it was more computor language to learn and understand ! Now thats something I could ‘get on my soapbox’ about…

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